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Since the 1980’s, Body Mass Index (BMI) has been used as a measure of determining whether or not we are of a healthy weight.

However, recently acknowledged shortcomings in the calculation of BMI has led to many health professional’s questioning its reliability.

Body Mass Index (BMI) calculates body fat using an individual’s height and weight.

The score obtained is used to assess whether we are underweight, of a healthy weight, or overweight. A healthy score lies between 18.5 – 25, according to BMI guidelines.

Although easily calculated without the use of expensive equipment, BMI ignores a fundamental contributor to physical mass – muscle.

The measure of BMI can’t distinguish between fat and muscle. So for the health conscious who work out regularly, all that hard work and dedication could leave you with a BMI score placing you in the ‘overweight’ category, as muscle weighs a lot more than fat.

Another downfall of BMI is that it can’t distinguish between types of fat. Visceral fat may have negative impact on health, developing around our organs and muscles, increasing the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Even slim people can have high levels of visceral fat, although their BMI would suggest that they are of a healthy weight. But if we can’t rely on our BMI scores as an indicator of our health, what other methods are there?

Of all the methods available, a DEXA scan is considered to be Gold Standard, in that it accurately measures muscle, fat and bone mass for the whole body.

This is the same machine used to measure bone density – but unfortunately it is not easily accessible. DEXA scans are only available in hospitals or private clinics.

A temptingly easy method can be to purchase your very own body composition bathroom scales. However, convenience may mean sacrificing accuracy and reliability.

If you do choose this method, consistency is key. Weigh yourself at the same time each day, wearing the same clothes and in the same condition – before or after eating.

A happy medium lies in the form of Bioelectrical Impendence analysis (BIA). BIA involves an electrical current passing through the body.

The current will pass most easily through water, relatively easily through muscle but not through fat, determining the body’s fat levels, hydration levels and muscle mass.

This reliable method is simple and easy, more accurate than bathroom scales and more accessible than a Dexa scan. Many clinics will have a BIA machine, so there’s no excuse not to use it!

Another method that has been highly recommended is before and after pictures, particularly since they have gained prominence on social media as proof of weight loss transformations.

However, it is important to realise that there are many variables which will affect how your body looks in a picture, such as the lighting and angle.

These pictures are great for motivation, but do not rely on them as indicators of weight loss success.

Remember, measuring weight, muscle weight and percentage of body fat is only one parameter to measure one’s health status.

Overall happiness, stress management, mindfulness, environment, diet, exercise and social support are also important when looking at health.

Main image courtesy of Shutterstock.com
  • All the Drs that I have seen have placed an emphasis on BMI. According to my ‘healthy’ bmi, I should be 65kg. If I was 65kg I would literally be skin and bone. Its just crazy.

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  • I have been asking myself the relevance of BMI lately. I’ve been told my ideal BMI is 22 which puts me at 66 kilos. Now, I was that weight in my early 20s until I had babies. But I think it’s an unrealistic goal for me now, nearing 50 and suffering arthritis

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  • There’s factors that BMI doesn’t account for like ethnicity or muscle. I think so long as your doctor, dietician etc are fine with your weight that it’s not something to stress over.

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  • This is what I have long thought.
    Thanks for the article and now I can feel a bit better about myself.

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  • I found BMI very inconsistant I haven’t heard of the other methods but I do find measuring the old fashion way with a measuring tape the best way to tell if I have lost weight. But it comes down to eating healthy and exercising.

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  • My grandma obsesses over the bathroom scales, the only indicator in her books. This includes forcing me and my children onto the scales at her whim. I was brought up believing in the BMI, but became more sceptical as I got older. I now believe in feeling healthy, trusting my clothes, being happy. I’ve never heard of a DEXA or a BIA before – technology is amazing.

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  • I have found that my clothes are a good indication of when I lose weight. They get too big.
    Also when you tone up your clothes don’t fit well as your body changes shape.
    But I agree that the BMI isn’t the best management tool.

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  • This is a really interesting article.
    I did the whole BMI thing a year or so ago and I was crushed. I knew that i had a little weight to lose but the scale I used informed me that not only was I overweight but I was morbidly obese….WHAT???….I was stunned. I thought that perhaps i was blind and just fooling myself. I ended up becoming quite depressed and ….I put on more weight…LOL

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  • Instincts are more accurate than numbers like BMI.

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  • Our BMI is just a number.. Same as the one that shows up on our scales.. Don’t obsess over it too much!

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  • I tried to tell people I know about how the BMI isn’t accurate for everyone.. Not many of them believed me!

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  • I think it is important to note that the man who “invented” the BMI speaks out against it’s use at an individual level and it was only meant to be used at population level studies.

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  • As long as the clothes you have fit you your saving, healthy and happy i say, life is to short to be ruled by a measuring tape and BMI.

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  • Definitely a timely reminder that it’s not the be all and end all, just a measure!

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  • Interesting read, now just need to find one of these.

    Reply

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